Park Lifers Face Fight over City's Green Lungs ; Our Man in Rome

Article excerpt

What's the point of a city park? The centre of Rome offers two contrasting examples. Villa Borghese is the most famous park in Rome, a great wedge of greenery bordering the city walls to the north, sweeping down to Piazza del Popolo. It is a hopeless place for a walk as it is seamed by busy roads. In other respects, however, it's a great resource, with a terrific art museum in the stately home at the park's heart, with cafes and restaurants, a place where you can go up in a balloon and gaze down on Rome. There is even a replica of Shakespeare's Globe like the one at Bankside; this summer you can catch an Italian production of A Midsummer Night's Dream there. Just a few hundred yards away there is a park of a very different sort. Villa Ada's origins are like those of London's great parks: it was enclosed in the 19th century by Italy's royal family, the Savoys, to enable them to go hunting. When Italy voted to become a republic after the war, the royal palace in the park was sold to Egypt and is today the Egyptian embassy; the rest was thrown open to the public, and its 177 hectares remain much as they were in 1946, full of pine, cypress and oak woods, dotted with ponds. There are few places where one can escape the city and the summer heat so completely.

But Villa Ada's many fans are asking themselves how much longer the park will be theirs to enjoy. In 2004 they discovered a great chunk near the main entrance had been cordoned off to create a new restaurant as part of a project known as Antiqua 2001. …